Under-the-Radar NBA Players Guaranteed to Break Out
Not all NBA players are showered with dizzying praise.
Resident superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant (though not of his own accord) are given their due over and over (and over). Less established talents—rookies like Michael Carter-Williams—can also receive recognition for their in-season exploits.
But that doesn't mean a player has to grab headlines to have incredible upside.
Between obscurity and fame lies a place called "relatively unseen."
Inhabiting those quarters are players who aren't unknown, but remain rarely acknowledged. They produce and play hard, and can be integral parts of their team's success, yet they fly under the radar, seldom receiving the attention they may currently or soon deserve.
Some players are destined to stay there for entire seasons; others even longer. A select few, however, are meant to bust out, finding their place among those more widely known and better appreciated.
Alec Burks, Utah Jazz
Years Experience: 3
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 44 percent shooting, 14.7 PER
Losing by design has overshadowed some of the things Alec Burks is doing for the Utah Jazz. Gordon Hawyard's future and play, along with the progressively improving Trey Burke, are guilty of beclouding Burke's potential as well.
Although his numbers, right down to his PER, are modest and easy to overlook, his end-to-end athleticism is mesmerizing. When on, he slips through defenses almost untouched and his dribble-drives are never without purpose.
Shooting efficiency remains a slight issue (34.3 percent from deep), but he does have a nice touch around the basket. Moreover, his assists percentage (16.9) continues to climb, rendering him an even more difficult cover when he's on the ball.
In fact, Burks joins Manu Ginobili, Reggie Jackson, Tony Wroten and Tyreke Evans as the only five players averaging at least 12 points and registering an assist percentage of 16 or better in under 28 minutes per game.
Burks' minutes have also increased by every month since November. He's receiving more than 30 minutes a night during the month of January, which should help him pad his stat lines, giving us more opportunities to see how high his ceiling stretches.
Spoiler: really high.
Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Years Experience: 2
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 41.8 percent shooting, 11.8 PER
Numbers don't tell the whole story here. Well, actually, they kind of do.
Terrence Ross' production hasn't been other worldly for the Toronto Raptors, but the athletic fiend has picked up his play since the team dealt Rudy Gay.
In 18 games since Gay was traded, Ross is averaging 12.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals on 42.1 percent shooting overall and a blistering 44.9 percent from deep. Wow.
Save another a third "wow" for this:
According to NBA.com (subscription required), both Toronto's offensive and defensive ratings are better with him on the floor. Or, take that Rudy.
January alone has been kind to Ross (minutes-wise), who is receiving more than 31 minutes a night thus far. With Gay out of the picture, he's risen to the occasion and is a big reason why the Raptors, supposed tankers, have a 4.5-game hold on the weak Atlantic Division.
"It’s an opportunity," Ross said shortly after the Gay deal went through, via the Toronto Sun's Mike Ganter. "Probably the biggest opportunity of my career so I’m just taking advantage of it and making sure I capitalize on things."
To this point, he's done just that. And the way Toronto's season is going, he should have ample opportunity to capitalize off his current situation even more.
Cory Joseph, San Antonio Spurs
Years Experience: 3
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 3.7 points, 1.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.2 steals, 45.9 percent shooting, 14.4 PER
Going out on a limb here.
Cory Joseph hasn't played much this season—8.6 minutes per game—but when he has, he's been effective. Danny Green's injury hands more minutes to Marco Belinelli by default, but at 6'3", Joseph can be used as an undersized shooting guard when called upon.
While raw, Joseph has potential on both ends of the floor. He tends to settle for too many jump shots, but his lightning-fast feet make him a tough cover on offense when he attacks the rim and near impossible to escape on defense.
The second half of the season is a time for San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to rest his veterans even more. Though he's a great minutes-manager, the Spurs aren't above age. As San Antonio enters the dog days of 2013-14, we could see him sit his veteran playmakers—Tony Parker and Ginobili—more than he already is.
Rotational parity—or potential trade—should give Joseph additional opportunities to play for longer stretches at a time, which at this point seems to be the only thing separating him from becoming a more distinguishable name.
John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks
Years Experience: 2
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.3 blocks, 53 percent shooting, 20.5 PER
Don't let the Milwaukee Bucks' league-worst record fool you. And I beg you not to let Larry Sanders' stupidity cast a shadow over what's really important: John Henson is balling. Like really, really he-has-more-potential-than-Sanders balling.
Henson is the league's only player averaging at least 12 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. Watch out for his understated playmaking abilities looking ahead. His court vision is a work-in-progress, but he's become more consistent when passing out of the post and when situated near the top of the key.
Passing should become a bigger part of his game in the months to come, giving him an edge over other bigs, most notably his interior comrade, Sanders.
Ankle issues have prevented him from beginning 2014 with a bang, but his December performance should still be fresh in our minds. In 12 games, he notched 15.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists on 53.9 percent shooting.
I'm going to borrow one of the "wow's" we used on Ross and insert it here.
Efficient double-double threats are hard to find, but the woeful Bucks have one. That's something to get excited about as their nightmarish season continues.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Years Experience: Rookie
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.0 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 54.5 percent shooting, 17.1 PER
C.J. McCollum is going to set Portland on fire.
Selected 10th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in last summer's draft, McCollum has spent most of this season out of sight and out of mind—because he hasn't played. As The Oregonian's Mike Tokito put it, he "could strap on his rookie-mandated Minnie Mouse backpack and slip out of the team’s locker room after games with ease."
Not anymore. Because McCollum is playing. And he looks good.
In his first two career NBA games, he combined for 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting in 28 total minutes, looking particularly athletic and swift, like he never even fractured his left foot. Since his "return", Portland has also snapped a two-game losing streak, winning both contests he's appeared in.
But what happens next won't be.
The Blazers' bench ranks 29th in scoring and desperately needs a versatile offensive weapon. Sometimes, it feels like their rotation doesn't even stretch more than six deep. That's how irrelevant some of their role players can be.
Enter McCollum, who finished his brief D-Leauge stint with the Idaho Stampede by piling on 24 points in 23 minutes.
"It’s a little different, a little weird," McCollum said, per Tokito. "Usually I just get out of here real quick and nobody notices me."
Those days are over, C.J. Those days are over.